Let’s debunk the misconception about grapes. You can eat them, and here’s how.
Reviewed by Dietitian Jessica Ball, M.S., RD
If you have diabetes, you have probably received unsolicited advice about what you should and should not eat. Family, friends and even health professionals may have told you that grapes, aka “nature’s candy,” are off-limits due to their ability to raise blood sugar. But the reality is that fruit—including grapes—can (and should) be part of a healthy diabetes-friendly eating plan.
Grapes are convenient, portable, delicious and nutritious. They are a hydrating fruit that’s naturally saturated-fat-free, and they're full of plant-based antioxidants, potassium and vitamin K. Read on to learn more about grape nutrition facts, how they impact blood sugar, the benefits of eating them and ways to include them in a diabetes-friendly eating plan.
“Grapes offer many nutrition benefits and can be included in a blood-sugar-friendly diet,” says Mary Ellen Phipps, M.P.H., RDN, LD, author of The Easy Diabetes Cookbook and recipe contributor for the California Table Grape Commission. “All colors of grapes—red, green and black—are a natural source of antioxidants and other polyphenols, which are found in every part of the grape, including the skin, flesh and seeds,” she adds.
According to the USDA nutrient database, 3/4 cup of red or green grapes (or about 126 grams) provides:
Dietary fiber: 1g
Total sugar: 20g
Added sugar: 0g
Total fat: 0g
Saturated fat: 0g
Potassium: 241mg (5% Daily Value)
Vitamin C: 4mg (4% DV)
Vitamin K: 18.4mcg (15% DV)
A serving of grapes contains roughly 23 grams of carbohydrate and about 1 gram of fiber. In addition, they provide about 5% of your daily needs of potassium, which is an electrolyte that is important in blood pressure regulation and muscle control. The American Heart Association notes that the more potassium you eat, the more sodium you lose through urine, which can help regulate blood pressure.
In addition, grapes are a good source of vitamin K, a fat-soluble vitamin important for blood clotting and bone health, as per the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements.
How Do Grapes Affect Blood Sugar Levels?
Grapes contain carbohydrates, about 23 grams per 3/4-cup serving. Carbohydrates are digested and broken down into glucose, which is the body’s primary source of energy. As glucose enters the bloodstream, insulin is produced by the pancreas, as one of its jobs is to allow glucose into the cells for energy use.
For people with diabetes, this process is disrupted because their bodies either do not produce any insulin or enough of it, the insulin they make cannot be used efficiently, or a combination of both reasons. Therefore, understanding how to identify, count and modify your carbohydrate intake is an important part of diabetes-friendly meal planning and blood glucose management.
"Depending on the portion size, foods that contain carbohydrates are likely to cause an elevation in blood sugar, which is a completely normal response to digesting nutrient-dense foods. For people with diabetes, knowing how many carbohydrates are in the portion of grapes is important information (especially if you dose insulin for meals),” says Lauren Plunkett, a registered dietitian, certified diabetes care and education specialist and person living with type 1 diabetes.
“There is a big misconception that grapes have too much sugar and people with diabetes should avoid them. But we know from research that a diet rich in vegetables and fruit is protective against many chronic illnesses, including type 2 diabetes, and helpful in managing existing diabetes,” says Phipps.
Combining grapes with other foods that contain fiber, fat and protein can help reduce the rate at which blood glucose levels rise. This is because these foods take longer to digest and slow the rate of glucose absorption from the blood.
In addition, “Grapes have a low glycemic index and can be included in a diabetes-friendly eating pattern,” says Phipps. Glycemic index is a tool used to understand how foods can impact blood sugar. The American Diabetes Association encourages eating fruit when using glycemic index to guide food choices.
Health Benefits of Grapes
Grapes are available year-round, making them a convenient option to up your fruit intake. They are also versatile and can be included in various recipes, like a filling Tangy Chicken Salad with Grapes, refreshing Roasted Grape and Radicchio Salad or sweet Grape Smoothie.
“Grapes are considered a heart-healthy food that offers energy, hydration, a natural source of potassium and a good source of vitamin K, " says Phipps. Plunkett agrees: “People with diabetes can eat grapes; they are delicious and nutrient dense.”
They Are Rich in Potassium.
Diets rich in potassium support a healthy heart by helping to reduce blood pressure through sodium excretion. Having a normal blood pressure can help reduce the risk of stroke, according to the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements.
They Contain No Saturated Fat or Sodium.
People who have diabetes often have a higher risk of developing other conditions such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Lifestyle approaches to treat or lower risk of these conditions include lowering intake of sodium and saturated fat. Like most fruits and vegetables, grapes contain no fat or sodium. And because they are naturally sweet, you can pair them with crunchy, heart-healthy nuts for a more filling and nutrient-dense dessert or snack option.
They’re a Great Way to Increase Fruit Consumption.
The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends consuming about 2 cups of fruit per day. A cup of grapes (which is about 22 grapes) counts for 50% of that daily recommendation. “Research has shown that grapes are one of four fruits actually associated with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes,” adds Phipps, referencing a study published in BMJ.
They Are Packed with Antioxidants.
Depending on their color, grapes contain a wide range of plant-based compounds, including resveratrol, quercetin and anthocyanins. These compounds have antioxidative properties that offer an array of anti-inflammatory and health-promoting benefits.
Although human clinical trials are limited, the American Institute of Cancer Research suggests that the numerous beneficial compounds in grapes may help to reduce cancer risk.
They’re a Good Source of Vitamin K.
One serving of grapes provides about 15% of the Daily Value for vitamin K, making it a good source of this fat-soluble vitamin. According to the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements, vitamin K is important for bone health and blood clotting. However, people who take blood thinners, such as Coumadin, will need to have consistent intake of vitamin K, so it’s very important to discuss your diet with your health care provider.
In a 2020 review published in Hormones, researchers note that while more research is needed, adequate vitamin K intake may be associated with a reduced risk of diabetes due to its potential to help increase insulin sensitivity.
Tips for Eating Grapes in a Diabetes-Friendly Eating Plan
Finding ways to add grapes to your meals and snacks can be fun and delicious. With a little bit of planning and inspiration, you can add variety and nutrition to your eating plan.
Experts suggest eating grapes with other foods that have protein, fat and fiber to reduce the risk of blood sugar spikes. Phipps recommends: “Pairing grapes with other sources of fiber and protein, like cheese, whole grains, lean meats, nuts and seeds, for a balanced meal or snack.” Plunkett adds, “Eating grapes with high-fiber foods helps slow down the rate of absorption. For example, combine 1/2 cup of garbanzo beans with 1/4 chopped avocado, green beans, sliced red onion and a serving of grapes. Add this mix to 2 cups of fresh arugula and toss it with balsamic dressing for a nutrient-packed salad."
Understanding how many carbohydrates are in your grapes and how they affect your blood sugar can help you add them into your meals in a nourishing way. Lauren DeGaetano, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes care and education specialist, says, “Consider monitoring your blood sugar after your meal or snack. This information will help you understand how grapes impact your blood sugar and if you need to make medication or meal adjustments.” And always be sure to talk to your health care provider before making any adjustments to your eating plan or medication routine.
The Bottom Line
People with diabetes can eat grapes as part of a balanced, nutritious and blood-sugar-friendly eating plan. Grapes can provide sweet flavor, vitamins, minerals and other plant-based compounds that are beneficial for your overall health. They are also satisfying and versatile. Include them in your meals with protein, fiber and fat for a better blood sugar response.
Read the original article on Eating Well.